Thursday, July 24, 2008

Back to the Classics

True confessions: The ratio of cookbooks I have to cookbooks I use is... shall we say... embarrassing. I buy them compulsively, drawn to beautiful covers, exotic cuisines, lofty dreams of a new, sustainable hobby (someday I'll bake my own bread weekly... Until then Beth Hensperger's Bread Bible will be damn good bedtime reading).

It's not that I don't love my cookbooks, it's just that, as a college student on a budget, meals have been a bit, ahem, improvisational. Gotta have my grains and beans, then it's whatever I picked up at the farmer's market. Given how gorgeous and fresh the produce is in Portland, I rarely feel like doctoring it up with heavy sauces or complicated dressings. A bit of sea salt, if anything, does the job quite fine.

Today, however, I sidled up to my cookbookcase, in search of something very specific.

This morning I was greeted by my roommate, Dragonfruit, with what amounts to earth shattering news around these parts. Limbo, the produce market across the street from our house, just put out ONE DOLLAR CHERRY BOXES. Limbo dollar bags are truly hit or miss. D has been making a lot of banana bread lately from the huge bags of ripe 'nanas, and I look forward to late summer when bruised tomatoes will make great pasta sauce. But... Cherries. Big, dark, ripe local cherries. It's enough to make my little lemonbasil heart pound with joy.

Usually, I'd gobble up the little jewels on the spot, but we bought so many that I thought I'd make something special.

Here's where the cookbookcase comes in. I started pulling out the regular suspects, only to find that fresh cherries are not the stone fruit of choice for my favorite modern writers. Most of them used dried cherries, which are a completely different animal. After exhausting the indexes of my favorite books, I doubtfully looked to the classic section. Stacked together on the very top shelf, a series of well-worn, fading hardbacks. I keep them around for the history, dreaming of someday researching early-to-mid-century culinary anthropology, but I rarely think of actually using them.

After today, that might change. The winner was Ruth Berolzheimer's The United States Regional Cookbook from 1947. I adapted the recipe for Rolled Cherry Upside-Down Cake, supposedly native to the Mississippi Valley. A great little book, the Regional Cookbook did not let me down. It did, however, make me fantasize about a plausibly embellished past, in which regional, seasonal eating made the most of a bounty like my Oregon cherries, and cookbooks allowed young women like myself to savor the gifts of our immediate surroundings.

Here's to local finds, summer desserts, and returning to the classics.

Eat well.

Fresh Cherry Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Ruth Berolzheimer's The United States Regional Cookbook
The original recipe called for a jelly-roll presentation, but I didn't want to hide the cherries, so I used a 9-inch round cake pan.

Fruit Mixture:
1/4 cup butter
3 cups fresh pitted cherries
1 cup sugar
1 tbs flour

Cake Batter:

4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unbleached, organic flour
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat with half the sugar. Pour mixture into cake pan and cover with cherries mixed with remaining sugar and flour. Set in oven to heat while preparing batter. Mix together flour and sugar. Beat egg whites stiff and carefully fold in flour mixture. Add vanilla and slightly beaten egg yolks. Spread batter over hot cherries and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until cake springs back when gently pressed. Let cool and transfer, upside down to a plate.

1 comment:

  1. Mmm...cherries. I've been looking for something to do with the cherries I'm going to get next weekend at either the Montavilla market or the Hillsdale one.

    Now, I think I know!